Vote on November 8

Death Penalty Vote Causes Concern In California For Inmates

There is a looming vote in California regarding the death penalty and two propositions for voters to consider. On November 8, the ballot that poses to be a complicated decision for many is to take place. As the Guardian states, Proposition 62 would completely abolish the death penalty and would instead be replaced with life in prison without the possibility of parole. Proposition 66 would speed up the process of capital punishment. California is a state with the country’s largest death row.

Both possibilities make many inmates nervous. Douglas Stankewitz was sentenced to death 38 years ago for kidnapping and murdering Theresa Graybeal, 22. The convicted has been on death row ever since, which is longer than any inmate in the state. Only a handful nationwide have been locked up as long or longer on death row. The murder conviction has been thrown out once, and his death sentence has been thrown out on two occasions. His third sentencing hearing is scheduled for next October 16.

The stocky man who has been behind bars for most of his life is proof that the system in California needs change. When asked what he wants most, he stated, “freedom. It sounds funny. People say, ‘How do you know? You been locked up so long.’ I’d love to go fishing, too. I wouldn’t have to catch nothing. Just fish.”

There have only been executions since Stankewitz arrived on death row. One hundred and four have passed away due to other causes, 71 of natural causes, 25 from suicide and eight incidents that have been listed as “other,” according to the state corrections and rehabilitation department.

There are 750 inmates who await execution in San Quentin’s death row, with the oldest being 86 and the youngest 24 years of age. No one has been put to death since 2006 in the state. Many inmates also are struggling with the propositions knowing that if the death penalty is abolished, they are sentenced until natural death, and if the vote results are in favor of speeding up the process of capital punishment, death will come quicker.

Stankewitz shares what days are like on death row.

“All the days are the same here. I try not to think I’m here. It’s worse than an animal, I know that. An animal in a zoo or a dog pound has more space than us … You’re on death row. You know you’re in prison. You don’t ponder it. Every day is the possibility to be executed, somehow, some way, may be more intense, if you believe it’s wrong to take a life. There’s no more premeditation than this.”

The convict has spent a third of his life in solitary confinement and shares how it is a place that has driven many crazy and pushed them to the point of being transferred to a mental hospital.

“Back then, you had nothing in your cell except darkness and a hole in the floor that was your toilet,” he said.

“At 4pm they gave you a mattress and a pillow. Fifteen hundred calories diet a day.”

Although it has been a life of confinement and has likely pushed him close to his breaking point, the convicted has managed to find love from behind bars, which gives him incentive to work hard to be freed. It was when he was in solitary confinement that he met Father Jack O’Neill, the prison chaplain, who then became the priest at St Mary Magdalene. The priest asked hi choir director Colleen Hicks if she would consider corresponding with Douglas. She did and the two fell in love. Hicks speaks about their relationship.

“We’re a couple now. I did not see that coming. We talk about the case a lot. I tell him about the museum, just everything. He’s just interested. He says, ‘I just want to know what you’re doing in that big free world of yours.'”

[Featured Image by Georgia Department of Corrections/Getty Images]

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